Johannesburg - The National Press Club on Thursday condemned in the strongest terms the manner in which a Sapa reporter was handled by the three police officers in Dobsonville, Soweto.
Reporter Mpho Raborife was forced by three police officers, not in uniform, to delete pictures from her cellphone she took outside a Somali-owned shop.
“Our journalists cannot be expected to carry out their work professionally when we still have police officers who are a law unto themselves. What happened to Mpho should never be allowed to happen again in a democratic country like ours, “ chairman Jos Charle said in a statement.
“We hope the three police officers will be dealt with in the appropriate manner and that journalists can continue to do their job of informing the community at large about the daily happenings in our society, without fear or favour.”
Raborife earlier said that one officer stood over her shoulder as she deleted the pictures one by one.
“Then he told me that I am not allowed to take a photo of that scene because it was a public violence matter so that area was part of their jurisdiction,” she said.
Raborife was driving to work when she passed three Somali-owned shops.
Three marked police vehicles were parked outside. Two men were loading items, including packs of cold drinks, into a white van.
Raborife pulled over, put on her hazard lights and ran to the area to take several photos. After she got back into her car and drove for about 700m, a police vehicle flagged her down.
“They drove next to me and one rolled down the window and told me to pull over. I pulled over and they asked me where the photos were that I took as I was not allowed to take pictures of a police scene,” Raborife said.
“I told them I was a journalist and they said that they had no proof of that and I then showed them my press card.
“Then they said either way I am not allowed to take pictures because I did not ask permission, and that I can't just show up at a scene and take photos and leave.”
Another officer told Raborife they wanted to see the photos. He took her press card and her cellphone. They said they had to take her to their station commander.
She told them she was running late for work, and asked if she could use her phone to inform her bosses. They said no.
Raborife offered to delete the photographs and to call her boss, but the officers insisted she accompany them to the Dobsonville police station.
On the way there the officers stopped and told her that going to the police station would take a long time, but if she deleted the pictures they would let her go.
“I told them that it was a open place, a neutral zone and a public area and the cop insisted that I was not allowed to take pictures there and 'leak them to the public'.”
They gave her back her phone and press card after she deleted the photographs.
An officer took down Raborife's details while another officer took a photo of her car.
Sapa editor Mark van der Velden said the reporter identified herself with a press card and while the police were in a police van, they were in plain clothes and did not identify themselves as required.
“On the facts available so far, this amounts to grossly unprofessional and unprocedural behaviour by police officers who clearly knowingly went out of their way to intimidate a working journalist to suppress public interest information on a very topical news story on xenophobia.
“Well-known standing orders for any police dealing with media specifically prohibits forcing them to delete photos, and they know this very well,” he said.
Van der Velden said this was another incident of police officers ignoring firm standing orders from their own commanders because they get away with it.
Sapa will, also through the SA National Editors' Forum, lodge a formal complaint with the police commissioner's office and follow up with enquiries as to what action was taken, he said.
“What happened is unfortunate,” Gauteng police spokesman Lieutenant Kay Makhubela said.
“Let her open a case so we can investigate. I don't think it's necessary to delete the photographs because the reporter was doing her job,” he said.
“A journalist must ask permission when they arrive at a crime scene. For now she must open a case because an allegation is an allegation. If she opens a case, it is based on the case not a rumour.”